Pundits today are calling it by all kinds of names – rout, tsunami, massacre, earthquake. Whatever they call it, it seems clear that Republicans across the country will score a massive victory on Tuesday.
The influential Web site, Politico, predicts Republicans will gain 60-plus seats in the House of Representatives, maybe more. Forecasts from The New York Times political blogger and statistician Nate Silver put the number at 53, but Silver says no one knows for sure. One way or the other, Republicans would control the House.
Meanwhile, Politico says the GOP could gain as many as nine seats in the Senate, which means Democrats’ Senate majority also would be in jeopardy.
But will all this change the politics in the bluest of blue states, California?
If the opinion polls are correct, the answer is, probably not.
In the latest Field Poll, Republican Meg Whitman is trailing Democrat Jerry Brown by 10 points in the race for governor, and Republican Carly Fiorina is trailing Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer by eight points in the U.S. Senate contest.
If Whitman or Fiorina loses, there will be the usual postmortems, citing this reason or another for the candidate’s failure to connect with voters. But it’s also true that it’s just not easy to run as a Republican in California. Here’s why:
- Democrats enjoy a 13 percent edge in voter registration, 44-31. (In Sonoma and Marin counties, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1.)
- To win the GOP primary, a candidate must run to the right to satisfy the party’s hardline conservative base, which means the candidate must spend the rest of the campaign trying to scramble back to the political center. What a candidate says in the heat of the primary election can come back to haunt her in October.
- The conservative opinions of Republicans in states such as Alaska, Mississippi or Delaware don’t play in California, where mainstream voters are more moderate on social and environmental issues. When Sarah Palin came for a visit recently, Whitman and Fiorina found reasons to be somewhere else.
The current governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a Republican, but he was a movie star, and he was elected for the first time in an open election with Democrats and Republicans, the recall of 2003. He didn’t have to survive a GOP primary to become governor. Organizational Republicans in California have never embraced Schwarzenegger and his moderate views on social and environmental issues.
Given the general disillusionment with government, it wouldn’t be surprising if the California electorate became more conservative over time. If Whitman, Fiorina or both win on Tuesday, their victories would be considered signposts to a political landscape that has changed – even in California.
But the polls for this election suggest California will be the great exception, as usual.